It's not possible to separate your eating from your health and fitness. The overused, but all too true saying that “You are what you eat” is worth closer inspection. Most of us want to believe that the high fat, low food value that constitutes the American diet is somehow turned into good fuel for our body. What have you eaten in the last four days? Based on what you know about what is good food, what is your score on the quality of food you have eaten in the last week? Would you describe your diet as “high octane fuel” that your body needs? Or, is your body having to sift through the debris that you have ingested to find a few worthwhile nutrients?
If you look around when you are driving, food is everywhere. Most of it is not what our body wants or needs. No wonder we overeat so often. Our body is continuing to look for food that has taste and can really satisfy. The following are a few helpful hints that might help you improve your quality of eating:
Do not rely on “willpower” to help you make good decisions about eating. When you are really, really hungry, eat the best food for your body Fiber is as close to a magic bullet as there is to satisfy hunger Drink water when you feel hungry Finish your last meal of the day at least two hours before bedtime A small breakfast in the morning gives your body a head start Think long term about your weight Try to consume more high volume, low calorie dense foods
Do not rely on “willpower” to help you make good decisions about eating: Most people have an idea of what eating behavior routinely causes them to overeat. They lament “I just end up going to the freezer and eating a pint of ice cream.” If that’s the case get rid of the ice cream. Throw it in the trash and get it out of the house. Make it difficult for you to give in to your dietary whims. Drive an extra couple of blocks to avoid the convenience store you routinely stop to eat at on your way home. Willpower is overrated. Arrange your environment so you can be successful with minimal “willpower.”
When you are really, really hungry eat the best food for your body: Pay attention to this tip because it works. When I was training for The Ironman, I would train Sunday mornings for 5 hours on the bike. Then I would go to church and take the family to a Sunday pizza buffet. I figured I had deserved it; I had burned nearly 4,000 calories. By the time I reached the buffet, I was starved. Forty five minutes later I had eaten 4,500 calories and I was stuffed. On my biggest workout of the week, I had eaten more calories than I had burned. I gained body fat that day. More interesting, the next Sunday, I started thinking about that buffet an hour before the ride ended. Each week I could picture that buffet and could not wait to get to my reward for training so hard. Then it hit me. I had conditioned myself to obsess on a high calorie dense food. My mind was conditioned to associate hunger with pizza. Now I will eat a fruit salad when I come in from a long training session. Guess what I start craving thirty minutes before the end of my bike ride these days? Make this “paired association” work for you, not against you. When you are really hungry, eat something that your body can really use.
Fiber is as close to a magic bullet as there is to satisfy hunger. Eat foods with high fiber content. If you are older, you may want to add a fiber supplement with your meals. You will feel satisfied with less food and even lower the risk of some cancers.
Drink water when you feel hungry. Thirst is often confused with hunger. Dehydration is common during the summer. Try drinking a glass of water, wait for a while and see if you are still hungry. You may find that a glass of water will be what your body wanted.
Finish your last meal of the day at least two hours before bedtime Late meals seem to be increasingly common in our fast pace world. Dinner is bumped back to late in the evening. Then you end up going to bed before your food has emptied from your stomach. When you sleep, you do not need many calories. What can the body do with that late dinner? You guessed it, the dinner is stored as fat. Eat earlier and take a fifteen minute walk after dinner. It is a great time to discuss the day with a significant other. By the time you get back home your hunger has disappeared. You have kept yourself from snacking on an additional three or four hundred calories.
A small breakfast in the morning gives your body a head start. Two to three hundred calories in the morning gives your body a little fuel. We tend to deplete our glycogen during the night. A small breakfast is part of a smart balanced diet. I know people who do not eat anything until lunch, or worse, dinner. By then they are famished and get out of control at dinner. They end up eating more than they would have had they eaten three smaller meals.
Think long term about your weight. We live in a world of immediate gratification. People often decide they want to lose weight and want to “lose 5 lbs a week”. They think losing 5-10 lbs/wk is easy; after all they see it on TV all the time. Let’s look at the math of losing body fat. One pound of body fat contains about 3,500 calories. If you burn 500 calories a day more than you eat, every day for a week you will lose one pound of fat per week. I know that in the beginning you also lose an equal amount of water, so it is possible the scales may show up to four pounds the first week or two. If you can average one pound of fat per week over a long period of time, you are really doing well; pat yourself on the back!
Try to consume more high volume, low calorie dense foods. My pizza example above is an example of a high density food. A typical slice of pizza can have 400 calories. It is pretty easy to eat 4 slices of pizza and still be hungry. Four slices at 400 calories is around 1,600 calories. That is a whole days worth of calories for most of us. A medium sized apple has about 100 calories. Can you imagine eating 16 apples in a single meal? No, you would be full after three apples. That is the difference between high density foods and low density high volume foods. Fat has three times as many calories as protein or carbohydrates. Minimize the fat in your diet. If you think fatty foods taste better, reread the section above about the food you eat when you are really hungry. You train yourself to like certain types of foods. You can retrain your self to eat healthy and never feel deprived.
Diet is such a complicated area. There are a plethora of books about diet and weight loss. I hope that these few tips will be helpful in getting your diet headed in the right direction, without massive willpower or deprivation. Eat healthy and enjoy the improved quality of life that comes with your health.